Everything Everywhere Everything At Once is the 2023 Oscar winner for Best Picture, and has won six other awards for Best Director, Original Screenplay, Film Editing, Actress, and Supporting Actor and Actress. For anyone who watched this year’s ceremony, where the audience went wild every time a movie was mentioned, the best picture award ceased to be a surprise about halfway through the screening. But a year ago, no one could watch Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s multiverse masterpiece and expect that kind of reaction or acknowledgment – not from the notoriously sluggish Academy.
Everything everywhere at first it seemed like a film made for a small, passionate audience. At best, it seemed like it could become a well-kept secret of a cult film. It sounded like a bigger and brighter version of the first Daniels movie, Swiss soldier — a film loved in certain circles but too dark, eccentric and subversive to attract mainstream or general audiences. Certainly none of their projects resembled candidates for the Academy.
But as word of mouth spread about the film as it hit theaters week after week, the narrative began to shift. There were so many reasons to see the film as a collective experience for movie fans: Ke Huy Quan’s triumphant return to cinema; Michelle Yeoh got the lead role worthy of her acting skills as well as martial arts skills. Jamie Lee Curtis returns to comedy in a unique role. A mostly Asian cast, telling a nuanced, emotional story that they so rarely get the chance to tell in an American film. A story full of Easter eggs and jokes aimed directly at moviegoers. As the discussion of the film grew, it began to take on a vicious undertone, particularly until it became the first $100 million box office hit for small art distributor A24.
And before the Oscar nominations popped up and the movie came up in 11 categories, Everything everywhere looked like a true rarity in Oscar history: a serious Oscar contender that was both comedy and action thriller – and above all, a strange, weird movie.
At least in a sense Everything everywhere is a traditional Oscar movie: it takes its characters to the challenge of suffering and then gives them a humanistic, uplifting conclusion. But nothing else fits the usual Oscar model. Gags about vibrators and butt plugs, S&M and spice-splatter hot dog fingers all hit the kind of cocky gravity that usually hits big at the annual ceremony. The Academy almost never singles out genre films beyond technical categories. But Everything everywhere is a sci-fi fantasy that takes full advantage of alternative universes, jumping between worlds and challenging viewers to keep up with the pace.
Just getting the attention of the Academy makes the Daniels’ film a success. It’s such a project should they are much more likely to win the Oscars – a technically stunning, ambitious film that deliberately pushes the boundaries of what cinema can do. It is consciously designed to go further and faster than most films to challenge both the audience and the medium. And it aims, above all, to make the world a better place, to get viewers to leave, wanting to be better, nicer people.
But the Academy doesn’t usually honor that. Even in the era of the expanded Best Picture category, designed to attract viewers with a few populist blockbusters a year, the Academy remains focused on awarding awards to historical dramas and prestige films. Even when the very occasional genuine quirk wins Best Picture – Guillermo del Toro The shape of the water for example, in 2017 – this is still an always serious and serious film that feels like a prestigious drama with fantastic elements.
Nobody would accuse Everything everywhere being it. It’s a film that really challenges the medium, rather than imitating familiar styles and stories. It represents the kind of innovation and excellence that the Academy should seek every year. Recognizing it and rewarding it is a good look for a notoriously heavy bounty of rewards.
But it’s also a triumph of the strange cinema. If success continues to generate imitation in Hollywood, perhaps at that time in a few years we will see more films that use the energy and gaiety of the Daniels, as, for example, animators from various studios have picked up Spider-Man: To the Spider-VerseVisual experiments and animation pushing boundaries. Maybe the energy that was contagious at this year’s Oscars, from speeches to audience reactions, will be a lesson to the Academy that joy and excitement are as valuable and worthy of respect as film values, as well as seriousness and historical importance. Bring space bagels and hot dog sticks: finally, weird cinema is fully mainstream.